It was an afternoon of Franklin County Proud of its All-Star teams, from its littlest Darlings to the Team Florida boys to the older traveling ball Sandlot squad.
In a spirited parade Sunday afternoon through the streets of Apalachicola, led by Police Chief Bobby Varnes, with the ballplayers riding high atop the Apalachicola fire trucks or in golf carts, these roughly three dozen young athletes, from Carrabelle, Eastpoint and Apalachicola, were treated to a full-throated tribute.
All topped off with refreshments at Riverfront Park, courtesy of 12 Mile Seafood, The Mellow Mullet, City Commissioner Adriane Elliott, the Ward family and the many generous coaches, supporters, fans and family members who made it an incredible summer.
And, if that wasn’t enough to bring alive the magical season, showing up, purely by coincidence, was a giant bullmastiff that bore an uncanny resemblance to Hercules (better known as The Beast), who is the canine star of the legendary baseball movie “The Sandlot.”
April Kimmel and Jeremy Vaughn had brought along their 178-pound pet “Big Ben” on a weekend visit from Panama City, and just happened to be strolling in Riverfront Park when they saw the parade.
Naturally, the boys on the Sandlot Squad, who a few weeks earlier had taken a memorable trip to Cooperstown, New York, all wanted to pose with Big Ben, and all the other kids wanted to pet him.
“He’s a gentle giant, our showstopper. It’s like walking a cartoon character,” said Kimmel, who has raised him from 13 pounds at but a few weeks old to almost 15 times that size four years later. “He enjoys the beach, loves boating.”
The Sandlot boys, a traveling team coached by Lloyd Alford, consisting of #4 Ja’Corey Williams, #14 Terrell Williams, #6 Rylan Wood, #99 Eli Harris, #27 Nolan Alford, #1 Sadiq Jones, #7 Kayden Drake. #12 Jeremiah Allen, #10 Karcen Poloronis, #23 Dre’Kylan North, and #9 Colton “Cash” Brewer had just come back from a trip of a lifetime to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As it turned out, the boys had an impressive finish, 18 out of 79 of the nation’s best teams. But as Alford said, the trip was more than even that, especially because he had the wise counsel of coach Jimmy Granger by his side.
“These are my boys,” Alford wrote on Facebook. “They are terrific ball players but more than that, they are examples of leadership and are shaping into some fine young men. I couldn't be more proud of every single one of them. They conducted themselves the way I expected them to.
“Thank you to our community. This was the trip of a lifetime for these boys,” he said, noting the year-long planning and fundraising that went into it.
“If you gave a little, or if you gave a lot, we thank you. Your generosity and selflessness allowed us to experience bucket list type stuff: Central Park, Cooperstown Hall of Fame, Times Square, Yankees game and eight games against some of the best 12-and-13-year-old teams in the country,” Alford wrote.
Among the proud parents were Tyler and Lindsey Poloronis, who managed to somehow be at both the AA tournament in Laurel, Mississippi and then at Cooperstown.
Tyler is the head coach of the AA All-Stars, the 7-and-8-year-old boys that represented Team Florida at the World Series. And so, after driving to Mississippi and finishing that tourney, they motored to Orlando, and flew to Cooperstown to surprise their oldest son for his first game.
The AA team of first basemen Kenyon Allen and Garrett Harper, second baseman Roman Lattimore, shortstop Gannon Poloronis, third baseman Cooper Taranto, pitcher Ian Klink, catcher Will Rummel, outfielders Caston Hires, TJ Putnal, Kade Dean, Andrew Harris and Tylin Cruz, had earned their way into the World Series.
After dominating district play, the boys traveled to the state tournament in Marianna in early July, where they downed Paxton and Chipley in pool play, but lost to Avon Park. In the double elimination portion, the AA boys beat West Volusia 6-3 and 6-2, but lost to Avon Park 9-3, setting up a second game, in which the Franklin County boys eventually fell 5-4 in eight innings.
“We played probably the best game we could play but came up a hair short,” said the coach.
Invited to the World Series to compete as a Team Florida, the AA boys had a tough draw and ended up finishing 2-2. And who did they fall to, and who ended up winning the Worlds? Avon Park, the same powerhouse team that edged them at state.
And of course there were the Darlings, that crew of 7-and-8-year-old cuties who represented Florida at the World Series in Prince George, Virginia, splitting against the two Carolina teams before falling to Alabama.
"The Carrabelle Dixie Youth League Franklin County All Stars couldn’t be more proud of our players, parents, fans, and coaches," said coach Leigh Sheridan. "We made a wonderful run this season. "
Teammates on the squad include Trista Wheeler, Shelby Melvin, Kelsey King, Leeah Ward, Amelie Cannon, Preslee Dasher, Kimber Severns, Lexi Griggs, Swayzee Lane, Hallie Zingarelli, Paisleigh Taylor, and Molly Thompson.